Selling to a tough crowd: Find the cool kids
  • sales
  • Blog post

Selling to a tough crowd: Find the cool kids

Perhaps you’ve faced this sales challenge: Company X calls you in to solve a gnarly problem. You know what needs to be done, but it’s probably going to be unpopular with many of your stakeholders. Maybe they have to change their behavior. Or give up cherished perks. Or reconsider long-held beliefs. And your recommendation won’t succeed without their buy-in.

So how do you win them over?

Here’s an insight from an Australian study: Researchers were trying to get apprentices in a trades program not to drink so much. Not an easy sell, especially in Australia.

What made it even gnarlier was that they were trying to get the apprentices to change what they did on their own time. After their training was done for the day, lots of them headed straight for the bars and stayed there. Over time, that’s the kind of behavior that leads to absenteeism, alcoholism and safety issues on the job, and the trainers wanted to nip these behaviors in the bud.

The key to getting buy-in, the study found, was getting leaders to model the way. And it wasn’t just bosses and supervisors. Equally important were the informal peer leaders that other apprentices looked to. The researchers found that apprentices identified with the values and attitudes of both. So the program was more likely to succeed when formal and informal leaders expressed — through words and actions — their support for the initiative.

It’s a little like high school: If the cool kids like it, everyone likes it.

The broader lesson for sales? When you’re facing a tough crowd, don’t try to please everyone. Figure out who the “cool kids” are and win them over first.

Source: Pidd, K. (2004). The impact of workplace support and identity on training transfer. International Journal of Training and Development 8:4.

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